Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Tangents: Hey, my birthday really IS today!

My Twitter/Facebook update last Thursday morning, March 24:
My birthday is STILL 3/29, even if my office thinks it's 3/24 and my insurance company thinks it's 3/17. It's been 3/29 all my life.
Seriously. One of my co-workers wished me "Happy Birthday" on Thursday, and I told her she was a little early, since it wasn't till Tuesday. The birthday list posted in the copy room had it wrong.

Just days before my shoulder surgery in January, I learned that a couple of my health-care providers were having trouble getting my information verified with my insurance company. The birthday information wasn't matching up; according to Blue Cross, I was born on March 17.

I have had the same health insurance for four years; it's through my husband's employer, and since we have just re-enrolled for the same plan for at least the last two years, he hasn't even had to update anyone's personal information, so we're not sure how I was aged an extra 12 days this year. I've been at the same job for nearly eight years, and this is the first time they've ever gotten my birthday wrong.

Nope, my birthday is today, March 29. For the forty-seventh time.

fortyish candles by Mike F. on Flickephoto via Mike's Flickr photostream, as previously seen on Everything Under the Sun. Used by permission (even though he said I didn't have to ask first)

I'd say you could ask my mom, but she passed on in the fall of 1999; however, March 29 was her birthday too. My dad - who just celebrated his birthday last Wednesday, March 23 - could confirm it for you, though.

I have a long-standing tradition of taking the day off from work on my birthday; since it's a Tuesday this year, I took yesterday off too. It's been a while since I've been out of the office on a day that wasn't a sick day or a work-from-home day, but I can't say I've done all that much with the time; some housecleaning, some reading, some writing, some clothes shopping. Some people really know how to party! Obviously, I am not one of them.

Today I'll be having a birthday lunch with my sister and her sons (they get out of school at 1:00 on Tuesdays); my nephews want to take me to Five Guys for Burgers and Fries (although I think Joey will have a grilled-cheese sandwich). If Tall Paul and and the kids have anything planned for tonight, they haven't let me in on it yet...and since our Tuesday evenings are typically crazy as it is, I don't think we'll be doing much, although I may get to pick out dinner and tonight's TV shows. I'm also hoping my Season 4 Mad Men DVDs, which have been on pre-order for months, will be delivered today - it's the official release day, and that would be a lovely gift!

Enjoy your Tuesday - I'm going to make sure I enjoy mine!


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Salon: The Sales Pitch

 The Sunday  Salon.com
As my participation in the book-blogging world has expanded to include more industry-oriented blogs and newsletters, I’ve become aware of the concept of “handselling” books, in which booksellers talk up book recommendations to customers. In some respects, when we promote books on our blogs with our favorable reviews, I suppose we’re doing a form of it ourselves.

I am not a person who wants to be “sold” to - in fact, I’ll actively avoid salespeople whenever possible. If I’m looking for something specific, I probably already know what it is when I enter the store; and if I’m browsing randomly, I’d rather be left to do it on my own. Those stores that focus on their “personal, personalized service” are wasting their efforts on me; in fact, I find them a bit intimidating. I just want to look around, find what I want, pay for it and go.

This doesn’t mean I’m averse to more passive forms of selling. I’ll usually check out the staff-recommendations shelves, and I’ll read the shelf talkers for the books that interest me. But if you work in that bookstore and you try to engage me in conversation about any of those books, it may have the opposite effect of what you intended - I’ll feel pressured, rather than engaged. And if you put the book in my hands, I may slip it back on to the shelf when you’re not looking. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve quashed any interest I have in reading the book; I just prefer to make the decision for myself, in my own time, and not because I felt uncomfortable or afraid of being “difficult” by saying no.

When I’m shopping for most things for myself, I usually prefer doing it by myself, and that includes book-shopping. I’m pretty well-informed about what’s available and reasonably comfortable making my own decisions about what to buy; approachable, eye-catching displays are all you really need to “sell” me. But I realize this quirk of mine may just be mine: how do you feel about being on the receiving end of the handsell?

It’s been a rather light week for both reading and posting, but I do have a few links and updates to share...
  • LibraryThing users: Have you tried out the LibraryThing Companion extension for the Chrome browser? (I’ve switched from Firefox to Chrome for almost everything I do on my MacBook.) I really like it; it’s a super-quick way to add books, access or edit your library and profile, and get into the forums. It’s pretty much everything I wish LT’s mobile app was...

As you may recall from last Sunday’s Salon post and other mentions around the book-blogiverse during the past week, the Indie Lit Awards are already getting ready for their next round! I’ll be on the new Biography/Memoir panel; I’m excited about that, since that’s my favorite non-fiction genre. I have a few books in my “currently reading” collection right now that would be eligible for ILA nominations in 2011:

A Widow's Story: A Memoir, by Joyce Carol Oates

...but panel members are not permitted to nominate books, so we’ll need your help! The nomination period will be open from September 1 to December 31. As you read new books (2011 publication date) in any ILA genres - and Biography/Memoir in particular - take special note of the ones you’d like to see considered for the awards, and when the time comes, be sure to bring them to the panels’ attention! By the way, ILA founder Wallace of Unputdownables has put together an excellent FAQ (&A) about the 2011 Awards.

Currently reading:
The Uncoupling, by Meg Wolitzer (TLC Book Tour, April 6)
What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters, by Phillip Yancey (April Faith ‘n’ Fiction Roundtable selection)

- After a month of mostly “free” reading, I think April’s focus will be heavily on review books, including the three memoirs I mentioned earlier in this post (all in ARC form, and tagged as “currently reading” anyway - it would be nice if that were true!), except on April 9 - Readathon Day is all about the "just-for-me" reading!

What are you currently reading - and how do you feel about being “sold” on it?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Filler - the Better-Than-Nothing edition

Yes, I know it's Friday Fill-INS, but I haven't had much writing or blog-reading time this week and wouldn't be posting at all today if it weren't for this - let's be honest, it's filler. But it does mention some of the things that have been going on to keep me from blog-reading and writing...


1. Why does it take so much longer to get something done when you didn't want to do it in the first place?

2. Q is equal to Z and J but not X in Words With Friends point value.

3. My favorite breakfast includes really good coffee.

4. Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen was the last book I read on my Kindle (and I reviewed it yesterday). 

5. I am SO glad I am giving myself a four-day weekend for my birthday - I'll be off work till Wednesday!

6. Finishing those reports for the auditors AND having some blog posts drafted for next week would make me feel better right now.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to just being done with the week, tomorrow my plans include coffee with my sister and some stuff around the house and Sunday, I want to enjoy the family get-together for my dad's birthday (yes, we're within a week of each other; his was this Wednesday, mine is next Tuesday)!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Talk: *Skipping a Beat*, by Sarah Pekkanen

Skipping a Beat: A Novel
Sarah Pekkanen
Washington Square Press (2011), Edition: Original, Paperback (ISBN 1451609825 / 9781451609820)
Fiction, 352 pages
Source: purchased e-book (Kindle) (ASIN B0043RSK94)
Reason for reading: personal

Opening Lines: “When my husband, Michael, died for the first time, I was walking across a freshly waxed marble floor in three-inch Stuart Weitzman heels, balancing a tray of cupcakes in my shaking hands.

“Shaking because I'd overdosed on sugar—someone had to heroically step up and taste-test the cupcakes, after all—and not because I was worried about slipping and dropping the tray, even though these weren't your run-of-the-mill Betty Crockers.”

Book description: Julia and Michael met as high school students in their small, poverty-stricken West Virginia town. Both products of difficult childhoods, they find a sense of safety and mutual understanding in each other. Shortly after graduation they flee West Virginia to start afresh.

Now thirty-somethings, they are living a rarefied life in their multimillion-dollar Washington, D.C., home. From the outside it all looks perfect—Julia has become a highly sought-after party planner, while Michael has launched a wildly successful flavored water company worth $70 million.

But one day Michael stands up at the head of the table in his company's boardroom—then silently crashes to the floor. More than four minutes later, a portable defibrillator manages to jump-start his heart. Yet what happened to Michael during those lost minutes forever changes him. Now Julia must decide: should she walk away from the man she once adored, but who truthfully became a stranger to her long before his near-death experience—or should she give in to her husband's pleas for a second chance?

Comments: It can be difficult to acknowledge that you’re no longer the same person at 35 that you were at 18. (It can be difficult to acknowledge you’re 35, period.) And when you’re partnered with the same person at 35 that you were with at 18, acknowledging that neither of you are the same people any more can be downright threatening to life as you know it, but sometimes circumstances force it on you anyway. It happened to me, but not the way it happens to Julia Dunhill in Sarah Pekkanen’s second novel, Skipping a Beat.

Julia and Michael have been together since they were Julie and Mike, small-town kids from West Virginia who shared a desire to make good in the world and the drive to work to make it happen. And they have made it, with material success beyond anything they might have imagined back when they were younger...but now it feels like they share little besides their enormous home and possessions, and they’ve gotten used to living that way. It all changes on the day Michael comes back from a near-death experience - and he’s come back ready to change everything else.

Pekkanen has written the novel in Julia’s first-person voice, and one thing that struck me is that she’s not afraid to make her narrator unsympathetic at times. Julia’s pondering over whether to stay with her husband after he’s declared his intention to give away everything he has could easily be viewed as materialistic and heartless, under the circumstances. But Julia is also pondering how she and Michael got to the place they’re in now, and that provides a context for the reader to understand that her concerns aren’t as strictly materialistic as they may seem. While she may not always come across as sympathetic - or maybe because of that - Julia did come across to me as emotionally honest and complicated, and I was impressed with Pekkanen’s ability to portray that.

I was also impressed with the novel’s exploration of the complexities of marriage. Julia is made to confront the often-unspoken compromises and agreements couples sometimes make so that they won’t be forced to examine things too closely, the separation that can develop - and come to feel normal - between two too-busy people, and the challenges of communication, and I thought that these elements were effectively incorporated into the story. I found some of the situations in the novel a little contrived and wasn’t always convinced by the characters’ behavior in those situations, but I did feel that the characters’ emotional portrayal rang true and was quite convincing, and I really appreciate the author’s ability to bring that across to me.

I still haven’t gotten around to reading Sarah Pekkanen’s first novel, The Opposite of Me, but I’m not at all sorry I didn’t wait to read her second. Skipping a Beat presents a rather unique situation with a degree of emotional honesty that makes it accessible and satisfying.

Rating: 3.75/5

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Inquiring minds wanted to know! (A's for your Q's)

In my Blogiversary post last week, I asked you had any questions you wanted to ask me - and some of you did! Thanks for playing along, and please read on for the Q&A.

BUT FIRST...For my Blogiversary Giveaway, I committed to donate $1 for each comment on my Blogiversary posts, plus an extra $1 per question asked in comments, and $1 for each sign-up to one of my two Read-Alongs, to Writers for the Red Cross. Here's the final tally:

Comments: 32
Questions: 10
Read-along Sign-ups: 6
Total: 48

I rounded it up to $50 and sent the donation yesterday. Thanks to everyone who helped with this fundraising effort! A portion of the donation will remain with the Red Cross chapter in Nashville, Tennessee, which is hosting this event, but the rest will go to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and its work throughout the world, including current recovery efforts in Japan.

And now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming...

What do you miss the most about the South? What team does your son pick to win the NCAA tournament?
- Kathy (Bermudaonion)
1 - The food, the change of seasons (but not the humidity), the way people talk, and the food.
2 - Chris, aka My Son the Sports Blogger, says: "Kansas in the men’s, Tennessee in the women’s" (as if a UT Knoxville grad would say anything else - GO LADY VOLS!).

What's the biggest change you've noticed in blogging (I'm particularly interested in book blogging) in the past four years?
- Jeanne (Necromancy Never Pays)
It’s hard to single out one thing, partly because of one thing - the huge growth in the number of book blogs out there! Meanwhile, the growth in the number of bloggers who have incorporated use of Twitter and Facebook into their blogging may have outpaced the growth of blogs themselves. I’ve noticed that social-media activity seems to have overtaken or essentially replaced blogging for some people, but that’s been more common outside the book-blog niche.

But regardless of the form that growth has taken, some of the changes are partly just due to MORE - more giveaways, more events and memes, and more books being made available for review more readily. Bloggers have acquired more acceptance as part of the book industry’s publicity machine, and I think that has both positives and negatives for us.

How are you liking the Intense Debate comment system?
- Jill (Rhapsody in Books)
I’ve had ID in place for about a year, and found it quite glitchy at first, but their support team has usually addressed my issues pretty well and, for the most part, I’ve been more happy with it than not. I know it doesn’t play nicely with some users, and I don’t know why - browser/operating system conflicts of some kind, I suppose? I do miss the people who rarely comment any more because of those issues, but I really don’t know what I can do fix them, if anything.

But having said all that, if Blogger were to improve its native commenting system and give it some of the functions and features I’m getting with Intense Debate, the odds are good I’d dump ID pretty quickly and go back home to Blogger comments.

What got you started blogging in the first place back these four years ago?
- Suey (It’s All About Books) (my Blogiversary twin!)
What got you to start a book blog in the first place?
- Helen (Helen’s Book Blog)
As I said in yesterday’s post, if I’d known about sites like LibraryThing first, I’m not sure I would have started blogging at all. My initial motivation was that I just wasn’t remembering much about a lot of the books I read, so I thought recording them in an online journal would help. It definitely has. But I discovered pretty quickly that blogging was also an outlet for anything else I wanted to sort through my thoughts about, too, and now I really can’t imagine being without it!

I was wondering how your blog and blogging, for you, has changed over the four years?
- Amy (The House of the Seven Tails)
Since I talked about changes in blogging more broadly in answering Jeanne’s question, I’ll focus here on my blog more specifically. The biggest change for me is that it’s definitely become more structured and organized; I pretty much keep to a posting schedule now, and it works for me. I think my review-writing has improved over time, and I like that I’ve come up with several regular/recurring features here.

Have you consistently been blogging 5-6 times per week through all four years, or has that fluctuated and you have just found that that's the best number of posts for you and your blog?
- Wallace (Unputdownables)
I only blogged twice during my first month, and wasn’t terribly consistent for the first several months; sometimes I’d post twice in a day, and sometimes I wouldn’t post at all for several days. I participated in NaBloPoMo for the first time in November 2007, and discovered that I liked posting every day...but I didn’t want to feel obligated to do so.

Blogger didn’t have the functionality for scheduling posts when I first started using it; when they put that in place, it really helped me establish a posting calendar for myself. I write most of my posts at least a couple of days ahead of when I intend to publish them, and ideally I have posts scheduled out for at least a week. (For the record, that is not the case this week.) I like to keep posting frequent because I’m mildly paranoid that my readers will disappear if I don’t update at least every few days; I’d like to be OK with 3-4 updates a week rather than 5 or 6, but I’m not quite there yet.

How do you decide what to read next?
- Sherry (Semicolon)
My first consideration is my calendar - blog-tour commitments and other scheduled reads, usually with other people, such as read-alongs and the Faith and Fiction Roundtable. If I’m current on those, I’ll go to the books I’ve accepted for review without scheduling a specific posting date: ARCs get priority among those, but my mood and interest level at the time play heavily into the choice I’ll make. My most recent reading patterns also factor in; if I’ve read several novels in a row, I’ll often go to non-fiction as a change of pace, and vice versa.

And sometimes I just won’t feel like reading any of the books I’ve committed to, and I’ll go the the general TBR collection or my e-book archive and read something just for myself. The fiction/nonfiction recent-reading pattern usually plays a part in the choices I make from there as well, but aside from that, I tend to go with whatever draws me at the time. Sometimes those reading decisions are the hardest to make, though!

Thanks again for the questions, folks - you made me think, and you helped me get yet another blog post together!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Weekly Geeks' 10 Things, plus Top 10 Book-Blogging Things!

The current Weekly Geeks theme revisits one of Dewey's original topics for the meme: Ten Things About Books and YOU. Here are mine:
  1. The current population of TBR Purgatory is 326.
  2. I give up book-buying for Lent every year, and this year it’s been surprisingly easy to stick to it. For one thing, I’m getting better about wish-listing books so I won’t forget I’m interested in them, but I think the bigger factor is that I’m really aware of how big TBR Purgatory is now - and feeling the weight of it!
  3. There really aren’t as many books in the various TBR stacks around my house as there are in the bookcases, but sometimes it feels that way.
  4. What I’d really like for my birthday (next week!) is a new bookcase or two, but I don’t know where we’d put them, so I think the stacks are sticking around.
  5. I don’t think I’ll ever manage to read more than 60 books in a year, but I’m very glad I read more than 50 last year.
  6. I don’t count e-books in my TBR numbers because I’m less physically aware of them.
  7. If I’d known about LibraryThing first, I’m not sure I would have started a book blog at all; it does a lot of the things I thought a blog would do, and it does some of them better.
  8. If I leave a bookstore with only one new book, it feels like a wasted trip.
  9. I don’t like shopping in most used bookstores because it can be hard to find anything I want, but I’m very happy to let them have my own used books for people who DO like to shop for them.
  10. I don’t like to be “in between” books for long; if I go more than a few hours between finishing one book and starting another, it makes me anxious - and therefore, the giant TBR collection is a sort of security blanket.

In her comment on my Blogiversary post last week, Word Lily asked:
What's been your favorite experience as a book blogger? (Or you could make a top 10 list, instead of picking just one.)
Choosing the option that didn't require as many limits, I went with the Top 10 List. These may not be the TOP 10, but they are ten favorite experiences as a book blogger, in no particular order (so they're not numbered):

  • Meeting up with fellow Southern and Central California book bloggers (and an occasional out-of-state visitor) at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in 2009 and 2010 - an experience I’m afraid I’ll miss in 2011. The LATFoB is relocating from the UCLA campus to USC this year, and has shifted the date by one week along with that - and I have a schedule conflict with the new one. Can we plan an alternative get-together for some time this spring, folks?
  • Discovering the fun of attending book signings (and actually getting my husband to go to one with me!)
  • Participating in the founding of Armchair BEA in 2010 - it all came together in a relatively short amount of time via the cooperative efforts of an excellent team, and it was a thrill to see how well it was received. I’m glad it’ll be back this year, and even though I will be in New York City for the “real” BEA this year, I intend to Armchair it too!
  • Book Blogger Appreciation Week, every year (2008-2010), but providing daily recaps of the events and awards for She Writes in 2010 added something more to my participation
  • The 24-Hour Readathon, every time - I’m planning to be reading (and probably cheerleading too) again on April 9!
  • Being offered my first book for review, after almost a year of blogging - and it had never occurred to me that I could actually ask for review copies. There are a few things about book blogging that I didn’t learn very quickly! (Interestingly enough, this is also my most-viewed review post, according to my analytics - I have no idea why.)
  • Preparing my annual Reading Year in Review posts (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) is always fun and thought-provoking for me, and I’m glad I supplemented that with my Books of the Decade list (2009), highlighting favorites from pre-blogging days. That led to...
  • Re-reading two of those books, The Sparrow and Children of God, as part of co-hosted group reads where I could finally discuss them with other people (and introduce them to a few new readers)!
  • Technically, this experience hasn’t been fully realized yet, but just being invited to moderate a panel at the 2011 Book Blogger Convention was one of those affirming, “it’s an honor to be nominated” moments.
  • I did get to talk about book blogging as part of a panel at BlogHer’10, but visiting New York City bookstores with my roommate Melissa was probably the high point of the weekend, to be honest.
Now you go - what's one of YOUR favorite experiences as a book blogger?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Work-wise, blogging may not always work out

A few weeks ago, I did something unusual here: I revealed where I work and what we do there. I had a good reason, though (and by the way, have you voted for our project yet? Voting's open till March 31!) - and I got permission first. Our staff was asked to communicate to our social networks in an e-mail from the CEO:
“Their process is to have people vote ‘on line’ for their favorite proposal. The results will be used, in part, for selecting the winner. I will ask you to vote using your email address and to circulate this to your friends or those contacts on Facebook or other social networks. Hopefully our staff can ‘get out the vote.’"
I e-mailed back:
“I'll be sure to pass this along on Facebook and Twitter, but wanted to ask if it would be OK if I post about it on my blog as well. I have nearly 600 subscribers, and I know that quite a few are from the LA area. I'm asking because posting about it would require me to disclose my relationship with Aviva, and I just to want to make certain that will not be an issue for the agency. I have never blogged about anything specific to Aviva and normally keep my work life and online life separate, but I would really like to promote this project to my readers.”
(And it looks like I just did it again - check out that first paragraph!)

I’ve talked about “work” in general terms here, and mentioned that I’m an accountant in the non-profit sector, but I’ve rarely been specific prior to that post; as I told the CEO, I’ve really tried to keep the work portion of my off-line life out of my online life. (And it works both ways; very few of my co-workers know I blog, and I suspect fewer really understand what that is.)

It’s always seemed prudent to avoid mixing my job and my blog - we’ve all heard stories of people who got caught saying something work-related in an online space they thought was personal. While the nastiest consequences seem to befall those who’ve written indiscreet and disparaging things about their workplace or co-workers, one never knows who's going to find one's writing on the virtual wall, and it just seems wise to be cautious.

To some extent, I think people have always had to be aware that, to varying degrees, their personal conduct can affect their careers. 21st-century social media just enlarges the scope and raises the stakes. As Pam recently (and colorfully) stated:
"(T)here are countless stories of employees who have gotten into trouble over bitching about a boss, a co-worker, customers or their job in general on a social networking site.

"Like it or not, that’s the reality we all deal with. If you choose to point out that your employer is a raging doucherocket online, you may very well get called to the carpet.

"Even if you don’t get yanked up by your current employer, you still might pay the piper. More and more employers are scouting Facebook and MySpace as part of the process of researching current applicants. For the most part, I don’t really like this.

"But you know what? A part of me says that if you’re dumb enough to leave your status updates completely public AND write about how you and your buddies are gonna hit the crack pipe or you had to bitchslap your baby momma again, you deserve it if you don’t make it to a potential employer’s shortlist."
There are things that employers are legally barred from asking about, but if they stumble across them online, that may be another story. And in that story, I'm inclined to think that someone's partying or worshipping habits - for example - are more likely to be held against her than her reading habits, but perhaps not. Knowing that potential employers are looking online to find out more about prospective hires than what’s on their resumes has given BookishC pause:
"In the last few weeks I felt like I would have to give up blogging for fear of a company that I applied to Google-searching my name and finding my blog. I don’t think that I post anything objectionable on my blog, but that is in the eye of the beholder...On one hand, I feel like my blog is an asset. It shows that I have taken the initiative to do something for the last year and a half that I enjoy immensely and requires some thought and work. On the other hand, I don’t tell most of the employers that I apply for jobs with that I have a blog. It’s up to their HR department to find me through web searches. I am hesitant because someone may look at my choices of books to read and decide that I am not the person they are looking to hire. Maybe this is just me overreacting and feeling overstressed to find a job, but in reality I feel like this does happen to people who run personal blogs."
It may be something that happens less often as the world at large gets more comfortable with the online life, but it does happen, both before and after hire. It quite famously happened to Heather Armstrong nine years ago:
"I lost my job today. My direct boss and the human-resources representative pulled me into one of three relatively tiny conference rooms and informed me that the company no longer had any use for me. Essentially, they explained, they didn’t like what I had expressed on my Web site. I got fired because of dooce.com."
Heather’s recovered quite nicely, though. She has since become "Queen of the Mommy Bloggers," one of the rare personal bloggers recognized by the world outside Blogland, and one of the even more rare personal bloggers who makes a living at it. Losing a job over something you wrote online is now occasionally called “getting dooced,” but I suspect not everyone comes out of the experience as well as the original.

Most of us literally can’t afford to get dooced - blogging is not paying our bills, and the odds that it ever will are pretty slim. Therefore, with very occasional exceptions, I’ll stick to keeping my work and blogging lives separate...unless my workplace finally realizes they need a social-media presence, and that I’m the best person to manage it.

Assuming your blog isn’t work-related, do your work and your blog keep their distance from each other?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Salon: I've Got the News!

Does anyone still read the Sunday papers? (We just cancelled ours.) I have news to share about some things they wouldn't tell you there.

After a successful inaugural year, the Independent Literary Awards are poised for growth in their 2011 edition with the addition of three new categories. The genres and panels for this year’s awards were announced a few days ago. Many of the 2010 panel members are returning to serve again, and the new panels for Mystery and Poetry are real all-star teams!

I served as a panelist for the Non-Fiction category of the 2010 Indie Lit Awards. For 2011, Biography and Memoir have been moved from NF to a separate category, and I am honored to be serving as Director of this new panel. I think we have an all-star team of our own:

Candace (Beth Fish Reads)

Nominations for the 2011 Awards will open in September. As you read this year, please keep your favorites in mind so that you can nominate them when the time comes! Here’s how that will work:
  • You must be a literary blogger, and a link to your blog must be provided with your nomination so we can verify this. (You may not be the author, publisher, or publicist of the book you are nominating).
  • Books nominated must have a 2011 release date.
  • You may nominate a book that has already been listed (the books with the most nominations will be what we add to the Long List).
  • You may nominate books in more than one genre, but only one per genre.
  • Nominations are open midnight PST September 1, 2011 – 11:59 PST December 31, 2011.

Also returning after a very successful first year: Armchair BEA! The original event-planning team is happy to be back, and along with a few new members, we’re working on getting another great event together for the week of May 23-27. If you can’t be in New York City for Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention, you’ll definitely want to be on your computer and on Twitter for the Armchair excitement and fun! 

And even if you ARE at the “real thing,” you’re welcome to be part of Armchair BEA too - two of Armchair BEA’s founders, Emily and I, will be special “on-site correspondents” reporting from BEA and BBC as time permits.

I’m repeating the following items from the past week for those who only stop by for the Sunday Salon, and anyone else who might have missed them:

I celebrated my 4th Blogiversary on March 16, and decided to mark it with a giveaway - one with a twist. For every comment on my Blogiversary post, I committed to donate $1 to Writers for the Red Cross, and I added an extra $1 for each comment that included a question for me (to be answered in a future post). I’m carrying that promise over to today, but you’ll have to go to the Blogiversary post to leave your comment - with or without a question - to add another $1 to the donation pot! 

I’ve also opened sign-ups for anyone interested in joining me to read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott in May and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood in August:

I’ll add another $1 to the WFTRC donation for each person who signs up to read along.

Book reviews posted since last report:

Upcoming reviews:

New additions to TBR Purgatory:
All review copies, which are exceptions to the no-book-acquisition-during-Lent policy:

 The Sunday 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Week-End Review: Friendly Words and Four-part Linkage

Have you had Words with your Friends yet? 

A few weeks ago, my son told me he’d downloaded the Words With Friends game for his iPhone, but since I didn’t have a smartphone of my own at the time, I was unable to do anything with that bit of information. That changed last Friday.

Words With Friends was one of the first apps I got for my brand-new iPhone (free with ads, but there’s an ad-free version for $2.99; it's now available for Android, too). If you’ve played Scrabble, it’s an easy game to grasp, although the scoring’s a little different, and it mixes in an element of old-fashioned chess-playing by mail; only two people can play in each game, and since players respond to one another’s moves at their convenience, one game can last for an hour - or for more than a week. If there’s a limit to the number of games you can have going consecutively, I haven’t bumped up against it yet. You can even text-chat during games.

I’ve lost far more games of WwF than I’ve won, but the magnitude of the losses is slowly becoming less embarrassing, so apparently it is possible to improve with practice. If you play too, come play with me! My username is Florinda3Rs, just like it is in most of my online haunts.

Four-Part Friday Linkology

For the Blogging Toolbox:
Do you like to play with pictures but fear Photoshop? (Watching my husband use that program just intimidates me more...) Well, their free version is one of five free photo-editing programs featured by ShePosts. (I’m a fan of Picnik myself, but I plan to check a couple of the other ones out.) And on BlogHer, “must-haves” and “don’t-haves” for newbie bloggers (and older ones who might need to shake things up a little)

Talking about the biggest news of the week in post-earthquake updates from Tanabata in Japan and Marsha (Sweatpantsmom) at home

Questions people were asking:
When you’re not a “personal blogger,” how personal does your blogging get?
Does “If you like X, you’ll love Y” marketing work for you?
Have you considered the subtext of the “Best Seller” list?
Is the shine already wearing off on her e-book reader?

Other things to talk about:
The books we’ve loved and lost (literally); also, does this take “loving your books to death” just a little too far?
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Talk: *The Weird Sisters,* by Eleanor Brown

The Weird Sisters
Eleanor Brown
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (2011), hardcover (ISBN 0399157220 / 9780399157226)
Fiction, 336 pages
Source: purchased e-book (Kindle) (ASIN B00475AXHY)
Reason for reading: personal

Opening Lines: “We came home because we were failures. We wouldn’t admit that, of course, not at first, not to ourselves, and certainly not to anyone else. We said we came home because our mother was ill, because we needed a break, a momentary pause before setting out for the Next Big Thing. But the truth was, we had failed, and rather than let anyone know, we crafted careful excuses and alibis, and wrapped them around ourselves like a cloak to keep out the cold hard truth.”
Book description: The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much. But the sisters soon discover that everything they've been running from-one another, their small hometown, and themselves-might offer more than they ever expected.
Comments: Do you recall, almost two months ago, when I asked this question:
"Do you ever read multiple reviews of A Book Everyone Loves just hoping to find ONE that says 'meh'?"
It was inspired by this book. Since asking it, I have seen a couple of less-than-enthused responses to it, but for the most part, it continues to be A Book Everyone Loves.

Having spent a good chunk of my adult life as an appendage to academia (grad-student spouse in a college town, then wife of a faculty member at a small college in a mid-sized city), I still tend to be drawn to fiction set in that world. The three Andreas sisters grew up as daughters of a Shakespeare scholar at a small midwestern college, and were shaped by both those factors. Each was named for a character in a Shakespeare play, and essentially speaks Shakespeare as a second language - it’s the method by which their father is most comfortable communicating; and each attended Barnwell College. But then their paths diverged. Rose, the eldest, became a math professor at a nearby university, a woman of numbers rather than words; her younger sisters, Bianca (Bean) and Cordelia, were more ambitious to get out of Barnwell than anything else.

However, when their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, each of the sisters already has another reason of her own to come home to help care for her, and to rediscover the town that still has a hold on them all.

Debut novelist Eleanor Brown chooses to narrate The Weird Sisters (a Macbeth reference - also a band of magical musicians mentioned in the Harry Potter books) in the unusual first-person plural, giving the sisters a collective voice even as she relates the individual threads of their story. I always find that interesting, and I really liked the way she used it here, particularly when she employed it to make wry comments about one sister’s behavior or thoughts as if they were observed by the others. Given the fact that the sisters really do have issues with one another - as in many families, they wouldn’t choose to associate with each other if they weren’t related to each other - I thought that it provided an interesting counterpoint to have them speak as one.

I thought the novel’s strengths were in the writing and in Brown’s portrayal of the mix of friction and fondness in the sisters’ relationships with each other. The liberal use of quotes from Shakespeare throughout the narrative and characters’ conversations adds a highbrow element, but not an off-putting one - given the novel’s framework, it fits. I didn’t find the sisters themselves quite so compelling, though; I appreciate that Brown didn’t try too hard to make them endearing, but sometimes it felt like she went too far in the opposite direction from that, which I think really works best in satire - and this novel is much more earnest than satirical. The story itself covers pretty familiar ground; Brown’s approach to it is unique, but I didn’t feel she was really saying anything new.

I liked The Weird Sisters, especially as a first novel, and I’ll be interested in seeing the progress of Eleanor Brown’s writing career. However, I honestly wanted to be part of the Everyone Who Loves This Book when I finished it...and I can’t honestly say I am. I may like it more in retrospect, or even grow to love it, but now, I just Liked This Book.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I am four years old today - and it's Day 2 of my Blogiversary Giveaway!

You only have one fourth birthday, but I’m taking two days to celebrate the 4th Blogiversary of The 3 R’s Blog: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness!

The festivities began yesterday, and here’s a quick recap of what’s going on.

I opened sign-ups for two read-alongs. Well, I hope they’ll be read-alongs - I’m planning to re-read both of these books this year, and I’d love to have company to discuss them with! Fellow re-readers and first-timers are both welcome.

I/we will read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott in May, and you can join that one here:

We won’t be reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood till August, but you can already join that one here:

I am conducting a Blogiversary Giveaway, but it’s one with a charitable twist - I think that makes for a win for everyone!

**For each participant in a Read-Along, AND for each comment on both yesterday and today’s posts, I will donate $1 for disaster relief through Writers for the Red Cross. Anyone who signs on for both readings will be counted twice and generate a $2 donation.**

And today I will up the ante: If you include a question for me in your comment today - to be answered in a future post - your comment will generate $2 for the Red Cross. (You can also ask your question on my Tumblr, if you’d rather, and it’ll still be worth $1.)

Since my Blogiversary comes so early in the year, not much has changed since my three-part-review of 2010, so I’ll just include the links to that and to my Popular Posts and Personal Favorites page - you’re always welcome to visit my archives. As of this week, they contain 1450 posts, so I need to start thinking of something really major to mark the 1500-post milestone this blog will reach very soon!

I’m not sure exactly how soon it will get there, though. I often think about scaling back here - to three or four posts per week instead of five or six - but I don’t seem able to follow through on it very well. I really do like it here - and I’m afraid that if I don’t come around as often, my friends won’t either, and I’d really miss you!

Thank you for helping make The 3 R’s Blog one of Technorati’s Top 100 Books Blogs.

Thank you for helping me raise money for the Red Cross via your comments and questions in my Blogiversary Giveaway.

Thank you for reading here and being here, and I hope you’ll stick around for my fifth blogiversary, 366 days from today (2012 is a leap year)! I’m pretty sure I’ll still be here.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Tangents, BLOGIVERSARY Edition: Help Me Celebrate!

Tomorrow, March 16, will be the fourth birthday of The 3 R’s Blog! Whether you’ve been reading here for a good chunk of that time - I’m not saying “from the beginning” because NO ONE was reading it then - or you’re relatively new to these parts, I’m glad you’re here and I hope you find it a welcoming and interesting place.

As my fifth year of blogging begins, I’d like to enlist y’all in a few group projects to mark the occasion - I’m celebrating with a giveaway, but there’s a twist.

Following severe storms and flooding in Middle Tennessee during the spring of 2010, a group of writers and bookish associates organized an online auction, Do the Write Thing for Nashville, to help raise funds for relief and recovery assistance. This year, they’ve ramped up and re-focused their efforts. March is Red Cross Month, and Writers for the Red Cross is conducting online auctions and accepting donations on behalf of the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund (with a portion set aside for the Nashville Area Red Cross, as host chapter for the event). The project started on March 1, but after last week’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it acquired a special urgency - funds raised will also help with international disaster relief efforts.

You can follow the fundraiser on Twitter (#write4red) and Facebook, and make an donation or auction bid on the Writers for the Red Cross website. Authors, bloggers, and bookstores have donated items for the auctions. I will take a more direct approach: For each comment on today and tomorrow’s Blogiversary posts, I will donate $1 to the Red Cross via WFTRC. You don’t have to do anything but stop in here and say hello!

Earlier this year, I mentioned my intention to re-read a couple of books this year, and floated the idea of making them group reads for anyone who wants to join me. Logistical details to follow, but the sign-ups are open as of today. (If you’re viewing this post in a feed reader and can’t access the forms, please click on through!) The Bird by Bird read-along will begin in early May - and maybe if you’re at BEA and/or the Book Blogger Convention later that month, we can discuss it in person? We’ll read The Handmaid’s Tale in August - a chilling story for the heat of summer. I will also donate $1 for each person who signs up for each group read - if you join both, you’ll generate $2 for the Red Cross.

Thanks for being part of what’s made this an exciting and enriching four years for me! I hope you’ll help me celebrate by reading with me later this year, and by helping me help the Red Cross now!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Miscellany: Where did Sunday go?

I almost didn’t post on Friday, and I missed the Sunday Salon yesterday. Being back at the office every day (at the busiest time of year) and starting physical therapy last week (which means I leave the office an hour early three days a week) have really cut into the time I have for blog business. Preparing posts for my Blogiversary this week and getting caught up on review writing are my current priorities, so Sunday basically fell off my calendar. Oops!

Oh, and then there was this thing - The Beast That Ate Saturday:

via Apple

We got these on Friday night. My husband had an iPhone 3G, but this iPhone 4 is my very first, so I spent a good chunk of Saturday setting it up. (Granted, part of that went to some long-overdue maintenance of my music playlists in iTunes, but still...) I can now use Twitter and Facebook from my phone (at work - HA!), read blogs with Feedly’s app, and keep my shopping lists with me in Evernote. So far, my favorite toy is the ringtone-maker app - I can easily see having more ringtones than I have people who call me! I’ve also added Words With Friends - I’m Florinda3Rs there, so let me know if you’re up for a game!

If you have any other apps to recommend, let me know in comments - but I’ll let you know right now: I intend to hold out against Angry Birds as long as possible!


If I had gotten a Sunday Salon post done, I wanted to follow up on a story from a couple of weeks ago:

You know how I quit Amazon - well, I quit being one of their Associates - before they could fire me? I was jumping the gun a little, apparently; it looks like they’ll get to Illinois first.

Last week, Illinois’ governor signed a law that will require retailers with networks of online affiliates in the state to collect and remit sales tax for purchases made by Illinois residents, even if the business’ facilities are located elsewhere. The legislation specifically defined online affiliates as part of a business’ physical presence in the state, thereby requiring that business to charge and collect taxes on sales made within the state. Bookselling This Week reported the news as a victory for “sales-tax fairness,” and for the state’s bricks-and-mortar retailers, who have faced a competitive disadvantage in having to charge sales tax where online vendors didn’t.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon immediately issued a letter to its 9000 Illinois-based affiliates severing ties with them. The WSJ notes
“...(the) action has little impact on Illinois consumers. They can continue to buy directly from the company as well as pass through affiliate websites to reach (Amazon.com), without Amazon collecting sales tax. But Amazon's (commission) payments to those (affiliate) websites will be halted.”
There are any number of reasons to use links or widgets on your blog to refer traffic somewhere else. You want your readers to check out a post somewhere else. You may hope they’ll join you in supporting or donating to a cause. You may even want to share more information about a business you’d like them to visit or buy something from...even when there’s nothing in it for you (maybe it’s a friend’s business, or you just like the place or the product). 

Here’s the question: is Amazon.com a site you want to refer customers to even if there is nothing in it for you? They can probably find customers just fine without your help. Will you keep linking to them even when they’ve stated on the record that they won’t pay you for any (untaxed) sales made via those links? (Or have you never made any money from those links anyway, so it’s all the same to you?)


Blogiversary programming starts tomorrow - please be sure to stop by!

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